Parent’s sacrifices provide opportunities for daughter

Amanda Kozak, reigning Miss Georgia, will compete in the Miss America Pageant Monday. Her parents, Master Sgt. Ken Kozak, 580th Aircraft Sustainment Group, and Jolene Kozak, retired military, have made many sacrifices to help Amanda find pageantry success. COURTESY PHOTO

Amanda Kozak, reigning Miss Georgia, will compete in the Miss America Pageant Monday. Her parents, Master Sgt. Ken Kozak, 580th Aircraft Sustainment Group, and Jolene Kozak, retired military, have made many sacrifices to help Amanda find pageantry success. COURTESY PHOTO

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, GA. -- Raising children generally requires many sacrifices by the parents. For one Team Robins family, the financial sacrifice and time commitment in helping their daughter achieve her dreams was often great, but the parents said they wouldn't trade it for the world.

Master Sgt. Ken Kozak, the NCOIC for commando control for the 580th Aircraft Sustainment Group, and Jolene Kozak, a former technical sergeant who retired from the 5th Combat Communications Group, are the proud parents of Amanda Kozak, reigning Miss Georgia.

They said the benefits of supporting Amanda in her pageantry efforts have far outweighed any costs that may have accompanied that support.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would, in a heartbeat," Mrs. Kozak said. "Her being Miss Georgia is amazing. You're heart gets full of pride to know she can do anything and she is truly going to make it in the world."

The largest sacrifice for the Kozaks has been the financial costs. The cost for competition attire is the largest expense. Pageant gowns can often cost more than $2,500. Travel expenses have also taken a toll on the Kozak's checkbook. The Kozaks recently left for Las Vegas to support their daughter in this year's Miss America competition, which takes place Monday. With airfare, hotel and food, that one trip alone could cost as much as $4,000. But for the Kozaks, it's been worth every penny.

"I don't see it as a sacrifice, I see it as an opportunity to be with my daughter," Mr. Kozak said.

Unlike some girls who start in pageants at a very early age, Amanda was a teenager before she started competing in pageants. At age 13, she entered four competitions, winning several. But it didn't stick and she didn't continue on the pageant circuit.

Her senior year at Warner Robins High School, she was selected as homecoming queen and was later invited to compete in other statewide and nationwide pageants. A strong amount of success motivated her to continue competing.

For Mrs. Kozak, being supportive meant giving up some personal wants and focusing solely on the needs of her daughter.

"We had to start letting her sense of urgency be ours. We had to change our focus," she said. "To really support someone, you have to make them your top priority."

While supportive, her father wasn't sure it was a truly worthwhile investment.

"When she first started getting involved in pageants, as a dad I was skeptical that it was something worthwhile," Mr. Kozak said. "All I saw was a money pit. I thought, 'We are going to spend all this money and what are we going to get for it.' I wasn't sure what the benefit would be. But what I've seen over the years is Amanda grow and mature in a very positive way."

He said the benefit has been seeing his daughter gain tremendous confidence and the ability to speak publicly and interact well with others. Other benefits have included watching his daughter learn how to deal healthily with competition and become more socially and politically aware.

"The one thing I really loved as an adult was to see her become socially conscious. She had to have a platform, which opened up a dialogue with us as parents and we talked about adult issues. It helped bring us closer together," said Mr. Kozak, who legally adopted Amanda when she was 11 years old.

When the Kozaks began seeing the positive effects competing in pageants was having on their daughter, and that the skills she was learning would help her throughout her life, they no longer viewed the financial costs as a burden. And now he, along with millions of viewers, will watch his daughter represent Georgia in the Miss America pageant and know her success is a testament that children growing up in military families can be successful.

"A lot of people look at military life and think, is that the best thing for children. Amanda is a perfect example that military life can be a wonderful experience for kids. We were both full-time active duty and yes, there were challenges, but we got through it and Amanda is a very well-rounded and adjusted young woman," Mr. Kozak said.

The representative from Georgia hasn't won the Miss America competition since 1954, so the path to wearing the crown won't be easy for Amanda. But regardless of whether she wins or loses, her family and the community are proud of her. And although the Kozaks youngest daughter, Jessica, age 11, may not take the same pageantry route as her sister, they would be more than willing to make the necessary sacrifices if she pursues that dream.

(Viewers can see all the Miss America Pageant participants in several television specials on CMT today, Saturday and Sunday. The actual Miss America competition will be Monday at 9 p.m. on CMT.)